Seekers of the Ashen Crown week 40: Trading Places

While Thom left the safehouse to meet a contact who could help identify the enchantments on Tik’s sword, chain shirt, and jewelry, Ivello spoke a message to Roscoe the rat and sent him scurrying off to find Razu with instructions for hiring reinforcements. He then turned his attention to Jak, who was determined to mine Tik for more information, and wanted Ivello’s help.  The former raincaller summoned a peaceful wind around his friend’s head, blocking out distractions and helping him focus.  He then motioned to the others to leave the room and shut the door behind them, leaving Jak to his own devices.

The young agent sat back in his chair and took a long, calculating look at his unconscious captive…and then slapped him sharply across the face.  Tik, having already been wounded before taking his knockout blow back at the Traveler’s Rest, didn’t so much as moan in response.  Jak frowned and tried again, a little harder – still nothing.  Frustrated and feeling the time ticking away, Jak pressed his hand into the ugly gash across Tik’s bare chest.  That got the traitor’s attention.  As Tik’s eyes flew open and he screamed in pain, Jak leaned back in his chair and grinned.  “Feeling better?”

Having the upper hand at last, and reveling in it, Jak presented his nemesis with a very short list of options: he could answer Jak’s questions…or they would let Demise know he’d failed her.  Tik sneered and questioned how being turned over to the Citadel’s custody would go any better for him than facing Demise, and Jak replied that it would be the difference between a quick death and a long one.  Arrogant as ever, Tik scoffed and continued in his familiar pattern of goading Jak, harping on the younger man’s past failures and accusing him of naive ignorance in an attempt to throw him off his game.  Unimpressed and enjoying the unfamiliar sensation of being in a position of power, Jak easily fell back on his training and began his interrogation in earnest.  The follower who’d managed to escape the Traveler’s Rest when the tide had started to turn against Tik – who was she?  What was her name?  Tik rolled his eyes.  Yes, she was a member of the Emerald Claw, but why would he care beyond that?  She was of no importance.  Jak continued to rattle off questions.  What was Demise expecting from Tik upon his return to the Dragon’s Forge?  And just what did an Undying Aereni elf want with an ancient symbol of Dhakaani rule, anyway?  Tik grudgingly replied that all Demise was expecting from him was the safe delivery of Zaraani’s Solitaire – the one piece of the Ashen Crown the party had managed to keep hidden from her – and that any of them who he brought to his Lady would be turned into one of her undead followers, a fate he’d been eagerly anticipating for Jak.  As for the Crown, it had been an elven artifact before it was claimed by Dhakaan, and it was said to have some sort of power over the dead.  With that, he fell back into taunting Jak, still believing that he somehow held power over his situation.

Jak had had enough.  Screwing his thumb deep into Tik’s wound, he leaned in close and in a cold, hard voice – and wearing a perfect copy of Tik’s face – informed the traitor that he was going to take his place in the Dragon’s Forge, and Tik was going to tell Jak everything he needed to know in order to pull it off.  Wracked with pain, Tik began to babble. Caught up in the heat of the moment, Jak found that he was enjoying inflicting pain on the one who had caused so much pain to him, and as he pressed his thumb in harder, Tik screamed and his facade broke.  Unable to hold his human form any longer, he found himself looking up at Jak with his true face as he began to spill his guts.  His only job had been to deliver the Solitaire to Demise, or else interrogate Jak to learn its location in the event that they’d stashed it somewhere.  Demise had no personal interest in Jak and his friends – having conveniently stumbled across Ashtura’s tomb what felt like a lifetime ago, they were simply a means to an end.  In the same vein, Demise was merely a means to an end for Tik himself, having promised him immortality in exchange for his assistance in retrieving the pieces of the Ashen Crown.  Even so, having been undercover with the Kech Volaar for over a year, he’d had little contact with her, though he did have a sending stone she’d given him to stay in touch.  His return to Sharn this past week had been only his second time meeting her face-to-face.  He had planned to bring any survivors of the Traveler’s Rest to Demise, not only to gloat, but to eliminate any witnesses – he believed it would be better if the Citadel never found them, if they simply disappeared, and he had not accounted for Jak’s arrest in Graywall.  As for what they would face in the Dragon’s Forge, the entrance to it was guarded, and beyond that, Demise had already begun the ritual to reforge the Ashen Crown, but it could be interrupted.  

Satisfied that he’d learned everything he wanted to know, Jak leaned back in his chair again, smiled, and thanked Tik for his cooperation.  He promised that, as a show of his gratitude, he’d be in Wroat to watch Tik hang – after all, he’d always wanted to visit the capital.

Shortly thereafter, both Thom and Roscoe the rat returned to the safehouse.  As Roscoe scurried up to the safety of Ivello’s pocket, Thom gave the rundown of the enchantments on Tik’s gear and then dumped an assortment of potions out of his satchel.  He’d gotten everyone something to help protect them from the searing heat of the Cogs, as well as some healing potions just in case.  Jak frowned and asked Thom how he’d been able to afford all that; he’d always been broke.  Thom smiled and reminded his friend that he was still a Citadel agent in good standing.  In case Jak had forgotten, there were certain perks that came with the job.  

While the party divided up their spoils, with Ivello claiming Yeraa’s sword as Jak set it aside in order to strap on Tik’s trademark rapier and complete his disguise, Razu returned with the Deathsgate mercenaries she’d hired on the party’s behalf.  Ivello’s message had urged her to spare no expense, and she had delivered. Sizing up their new allies, Aruget declared that there would be an extra twenty galifars for the one with the highest kill count as he did a quick roll call.  There was Malcanus the Wry, a Talenta halfling maskweaver whose eyes lit up at the promise of extra gold in exchange for a challenge, and Minyu the shifter, an imposing figure who also perked up at this promise.  Accompanying them were two very different warforged: Scorn, a sleek, tactical model who spoke in the third person as they rested their hands on the swords on each hip, and Watcher, who lived up to their name, silently observing the room from under the hood of their flowing robes while radiating an aura of protection.  Pleased with Razu’s decisions, but still eager to fight at his sister’s side, Aruget asked if she still had the time and will to join them.  Smiling, she replied that she’d already told her Deneith captain that she had a personal matter to attend to, and would be glad to accompany him. 

Over in the corner, with the importance of their task (and no small concern for his friend) weighing on him, Thom admonished Jak not to fail.  Overwhelmed with emotions and struggling to find the right words, Jak began to tell his friend goodbye in case things went south.  Putting a hand on the younger man’s shoulder and looking him in the eye, Thom cut him off and insisted that nothing more needed to be said – he just needed Jak to get the job done, come back alive, and clear his name.  Awkwardly throwing his arms around Thom in a quick hug, Jak stepped back, holding him at arm’s length, and transformed into Tik again.  This time, he completed his disguise by matching the other man’s body language and arrogant smirk, and Thom smiled – it was an impressive performance, sure to fool the Emerald Claw.  Promising to keep an eye on Tik until the party’s safe return, Thom shooed them out the door and they began making their way into the heart of the Cogs.

Making regular stops to consult Yeraa’s journal for directions, the party worked their way through a series of oppressively hot, stuffy tunnels.  As they approached the entrance of a large cavern filled with light, they spotted several figures ahead – surely, this was the guard post Tik had spoken of.  Pausing just outside the chamber, Aruget and Ivello called on their respective magics to help improve their chances.  As Ivello summoned his focusing wind again, this time wrapping it around everybody, Aruget began to pray to Dol Arrah while Kayde and Jak remained on high alert.  Jak took note of three women in Emerald Claw livery – one of whom stood out as a leader – and Kayde’s eagle eyes spotted some kruthik skittering about who appeared to have been killed and raised back to life.

As Jak confidently strode up to the woman he assumed was the Emerald Claw captain, with the mercenaries behind him leading his friends as their “prisoners”, she turned to him with a dark glare.  “Tikulti”, she snapped, “where have you been?  You’re long overdue.”  Calling on his memories of Tik’s unmatched arrogance, Jak produced his most insulting smirk and replied that that was between him and his Lady.  Scowling, the captain demanded to know who his prisoners were, and he told her that they were the ones who had found the Ashen Crown for him – and that their reward would be a second life joining the legions of Demise’s undead.  As Kayde and Ivello helped sell the ruse by shouting at “Tik” that he wouldn’t get away with it, the captain grumbled and made her feelings known.  He thought he was so special, didn’t he?  Always figured himself better than her.  But he wasn’t one of them, really; he wasn’t a true follower.  Jak continued to smirk at the woman in silence, and she grudgingly stepped aside, pointing out the entrance to the Dragon’s Forge.  Waving the others forward, he assured her that her loyalty would be rewarded.

Making their way through, the party continued deeper and deeper down under the Cogs as the heat increased, and they could hear the sounds of smoldering lava flowing around the tunnel’s walls.  Before long, they found themselves in yet another large chamber, this one featuring a small outcropping of land that jutted into the middle of a humongous, molten pool.  In the middle of the island on an unnatural, circular platform, there stood a cluster of Khyber dragonshards stretching fifteen feet tall, and several figures milled around a table beneath it.  Having spent many hours poring over Yeraa’s journal, Ivello believed that they’d reached their ultimate destination – a belief which was confirmed when a familiar face turned around to confront those who dared interrupt her.  After weeks of hardship, peril, and loss, all for seemingly very little reward, the party had caught up with Demise at last.  It was time.

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
  • Ivello flavours most his powers as some form of calling up wind. In this session, the wind he called up to calm and focus Jak and then the party at large was Boost Trait, which he used to increase everyone’s Performance skill by one die size.
  • Assuming our encounter with Demise devolves into a fight before long, we will be enjoying the assistance of six allied Extras under our command: the four new Deathsgate mercenaries, plus the one captured alongside Tik last session, as well as Aruget’s sister Razu. Is it a really bad idea to bring six potential corpses into a necromancer’s lair? Maybe! We’re nothing if not confident. 😀
  • Oh, how the tables have turned. Tik spent a bennie attempting to resist Jak’s interrogation…and he wound up fishing for a crit fail just like the rest of us. Turns out I didn’t need to spend my own bennie fishing for a raise to set the target number!
  • Speaking of Jak’s interrogation…things got kind of dark there. As a professional intelligence operative of a nation known for embodying the philosophy that the ends justify the means, I believe Jak’s always had the capacity to go morally questionable places – and it’s certainly something Ivello and Aruget have called him on in the past, and Ivello will most likely call him on it again when the opportunity arises. That being said, roleplaying a rather nasty interrogation and then (if I don’t say so myself) doing a pretty good job of sliding into Tik’s particularly mean brand of arrogance to sell Jak’s disguise was a little intense. From a storytelling perspective, it made a ton of sense for Jak to take out his anger on Tik and make good on the threat he delivered from his jail cell in Graywall, and I imagine that this kind of thing would have been part of his Dark Lanterns training as well. From a player perspective, I kind of felt like I needed a shower afterwards. Was Aruget right all along when he accused Jak and Tik of being two sides of the same coin? Have all of Ivello’s attempts to save Jak from himself come to naught?
  • Due to an IRL combination of work and play, the Seekers of the Ashen Crown are taking a two-week hiatus…but that doesn’t mean this space needs to be quiet during that time! If there’s a subject you’d like me to tackle as a Table Talk article, go ahead and suggest it below, and I’ll see what I can do. It could be a mechanics/gameplay question, something to do with our current campaign, etc. Topics already covered include bennies, hindrances, and cinematic combat. Otherwise, I’ll see you on July 7!

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